To hear Ed Willes (Vancouver Province) talk about it, the recently-concluded Canucks Young Stars Tournament was an exercise in futility.
Add it all up and the consensus is it would be a stunning upset if anyone from this camp, other than Schroeder, opened the season with the big team. There are some intriguing figures. There are some projects who, in time, might make the NHL. But, in the absence of Cody Hodgson, there was no big news to come out of the Okanagan and that made the whole affair somewhat forgettable.
While Willes is right that the none of these prospects (well except maybe for Jordan Schroeder) seem poised to make the team this season, I don’t think things are as bleak as he makes it out to be. While it’s true that there don’t seem to be any blue-chippers among this prospects group, there are a few who stood out this week and played reasonably well.
Kevin Connauton showed the skill that made him the highest scoring defenseman in the WHL last season. The defensive side of his game is already better than it was at this same time last year, and if he can work on it further in Manitoba, he could turn out to be one of the Canucks’ better offensive d-man prospects since… Kiril Koltsov? (Okay, since a long time ago.)
Chris Tanev played with good positioning and poise. When he got beat, he also showed enough speed to get back into the play. He was probably the Canucks’ best prospect at this tournament, and along wtih Connauton, could legitimately challenge for a roster spot in a year or two.
Eddie Lack was solid in the three games he played and stopped 84 of the 92 shots he faced (.920 save %). With Cory Schneider slated to spend the entire season in Vancouver, Lack should get more seasoning with the Moose.
Up front, Schroeder, Bill Sweatt, Prab Rai and Aaron Volpatti all showed glimpses of being able to play the pro game, and all will probably be counted on – along with the like of Cody Hodgson and Sergei Shirokov – to lead the rebuilt Moose roster.
Yes, these guys are projects but, IMHO anyway, seem like better projects than some of the ones we’ve seen in recent years. (Nathan Smith and Marc-Andre Bernier anyone?)
And like Willes himself admits, the good news is that the Canucks can field a damn good team for the next couple of years and this gives them time to develop the kids properly on the farm. I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a pretty good plan to me.
In this salary-capped NHL where drafting is crucial and teams need some of their younger players (read: cheap players on ELC), it’s fair to ask why the Canucks won’t have many (or any) of their recent draft picks in their opening night lineup. But remembering that Mike Gillis’ program has only been in place for three drafts and off-seasons and given how he has built his current roster, I don’t think it’s fair to sound the alarm bells because 20 and 21-year olds haven’t cracked this Stanley Cup-contending team yet. It’s one thing to panic when 32 out of 34 draft picks bust like they did between 2000 and 2003. But seeing how some of the guys are still developing and getting better – at least seeing by how they played this week – I don’t think it’s necessary to throw Gillis’ program under the bus just yet.